National Fire Prevention and Control Administration
National Fire Safety and Research Office
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
& Equipment For
A Report from:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
National Fire Prevention and Control Administration
National Fire Safety & Research Office
Washington, D.C. 20230
Andrew F. Sears
Edward V. Clougherty
Digitized by the Internet Archive
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary i
Face Shields and Goggles 7
Fire Coats and Trousers 10
Boots and Shoes 15
Station Uniforms 22
Respiratory Protective Devices 25
Project "F.I.R.E.S." 29
Information on current standards, specifications and advancements
in firefighter protective clothing and equipment is often not readily
accessible to fire departments at the time when they need it most — when
purchasing new clothing and equipment. To aid departments and other
purchasers of firefighters' gear, the National Fire Prevention and
Control Administration (NFPCA) , compiled Protective Clothing and
Equipment for Firefighters: Current Standards and Practices .
This document provides an assessment of the state-of-the-art in
protective clothing and equipment and describes relevant standards vrtiich
fire departments can use in developing purchase specifications.
The areas covered by the full report are:
Face Shields and Goggles
Fire Coats and Trousers
Boots and Shoes
Respiratory Protective Devices
The NFPCA, based on research conducted by the Institute for
Applied Technology, National Bureau of Standards, published
Model Performance Criteria for Structural Firefighters'
Helmets . Helmets manufactured under the model criteria
substantially increase the level of head protection now
available for firefighters. Two manufacturers are now
producing helmets which meet these model criteria.
The NFPCA has made these model criteria available to the
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Committee on
Protective Clothing and Equipment for Firefighters for its
consideration in the development of a national concensus
standard for structural firefighters' helmets.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard for
Industrial Head Protection Class D, Type 1 is a subclass of
this Standard applicable to a firefighter's protective helmet,
Most currently available helmets designed with a plastic
exterior shell and suspension system meet this standard.
Metal and leather helmets usually do not.
The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) ,
after conducting research into ANSI standards, concluded that
the ANSI Standard did not provide an adequate level of protection,
and that a helmet should be developed which would provide all
around head protection and offer the advantages of both sling-
suspension and the foamlined types of helmets.
The British Standards Organization published specifications and
performance criteria for helmets in 1956. Helmets which conform
to the British Standard offer many of the protective features
suggested in the NIOSH study.
The International Association of Fire Fighters developed sample
standards for protective clothing and equipment which could be
incorporated into state OSHA plans (Occupational Safety and Health
Administration) . These standards incorporate suggestions from
both NIOSH and the British Standard.
FACE SHIELDS AND GOGGLES
ANSI Standards describe the devices available for eye and face
protection, goggles, spectacles and face shields, and the
facepiece of self contained breathing apparatus. Spectacles
and goggles which meet the applicable design and performance
ANSI requirements for providing eye protection are generally
known as "safety glasses;" face shields are not designed to
provide eye protection. The Standard states that face shields
should be worn over eye protection.
A voluntary consensus standard is the main standard for eye and
face protection in industry. However, it does not contain any
special performance requirements pertaining to firefighters.
NIOSH studies of this equipment reveal that face shields on the
market today fail to meet the voluntary consensus standard.
FIRE COATS AND TROUSERS
o Fire Coats are usually constructed one of two ways: fabric
outer shell, vapor barrier and permanent liner, a majority
of American firefighters wear this type; and a coated fabric
outer shell and permanent liner is the second design.
Fabric Outer Shell, Vapor Barrier and Permanent Liner
o Design criteria and purchase specifications are available from
the following groups:
In 1970 the Cleveland, Ohio Fire Department created certain
specifications for this and other items.
The National Bureau of Standards published Design Criteria for
Firefighters' Turnout Coats .
The NFPA: Protective Clothing for Structural Fire Fighting,
NFPA No. 1971, published in 1975.
Coated Fabric Outer Shell, Permanent Liner
o The above specifications do not adequately cover the construction
of a fire coat with a coated fabric outer shell which eliminates
the need for a separate vapor liner. The Boston Fire Department
developed specifications which required resistance to ignition
for this type of coat.
Published specifications by the NFPA, NBS and Cleveland Fire
Department provide details of a fire coat's component parts;
however, they do not list requirements relating to thermal
protective qualities in an assembled garment.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has
developed a proposed standard for construction requirements
of fire coats and trousers relating to both fabric and coated
fabric outer shell clothing. Requirements for ignition
resistance by outer shells, vapor barriers, liners and winter
liners are presented. A thermal protection performance require-
ment for the assembled coat construction is included.
There is no voluntary standard for performance requirements
and construction features.
Manufacturers cite standards for certain features:
Impact protection for toes may be based on performance criteria
in the ANSI Standard designed for industrial work shoes and
puncture protection for soles may be based on a military speci-
fication for firefighter boots.
Military specifications may also be cited as the performance
requirement for boots against leakage of water and solvents.
There is no accepted thermal protection performance requirement.
Protection against electrical hazards is generally not specified,
although a level of protection is provided.
Shoes worn by firefighters are generally industrial work shoes
with added protection such as puncture resistant insoles or
extra reinforcements. Firefighters can assure themselves of
protection against impact and penetration by purchasing safety
shoes which meet the same standards as boots.
A Canadian Standard for industrial safety shoes outlines the
performance criteria for impact resistance and other features
o Fire departments have developed specifications for purchasing
gloves which are usually based on a manufacturer's field tests.
o There are no voluntary consensus standards for firefighters'
o The IAFF proposed sample standards for protective clothing and
equipment, including protective gloves.
o NIOSH has sponsored research to develop performance criteria
o California and Washington have developed OSHA standards for
firefighter protective clothing which includes gloves.
o Protective clothing is intended to be worn under protective
fire coats and other protective clothing and equipment when
responding to fires and other emergencies.
o Requirements for protective features of station uniforms vary
in relation to the length and type of outer gear.
o Treated and flame-resistant fabrics for station uniforms are
under review by several fire departments, spurred by reports
of burn injuries aggravated by the failure and melting of
cotton/polyester fabrics and by increasing availability of
fabrics which offer some resistance to ignition.
o There are no voluntary consensus standards for station uniforms.
o^ The IAFF has proposed a standard which requires the fabric to
resist ignition and melting.
o The International Standards Organization (ISO) Subcomuittee on
Flameproof Clothing has proposed requirements regarding potential
problems with fusible materials which can melt.
o In developing performance criteria for firefighters' station
uniforms, require fabrics that resist melting, decomposition
or any physical or chemical process which would degrade their
thermal properties in the range of heat flux and conditions
that can be anticipated.
RESPIRATORY PROTECTIVE DEVICES
o Three Federal agencies have construction and performance
requirements for the "approval" of breathing apparatus.
However, the demands placed on this equipment by the fire
service far exceeds the performance requirements which the
Federal regulatory agencies use in their approval schedules.
o Breathing apparatus made in the united States must be designed
and constructed to meet performance requirements described in
approval schedules developed by the Bureau of Mines and now under
the jurisdiction of NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health
o The shortcomings of the available breathing apparatus and the
known respiratory hazards faced in firefighting produce a dilemma
not fully understood by the majority of occupational safety
specialists, including firefighters, research scientists and
o The numerous problems encountered by the fire service in the
use of breathing apparatus which conform to the approval
schedules attest to the need for major revisions. The working
conditions, special environment and work rates of firefighting
need to be considered.
o The need for revising the approval schedules of these regulatory
agencies to consider the special needs of the fire services was
recognized recently by NIOSH and MSHA, which are soliciting
input from fire service organizations and other interested parties.
o NFPA Standard 19B, Respiratory Protective Equipment for Fire-
fighters, prohibits the use of filter masks for firefighting.
o The ANSI Committee on Respiratory Protection has published a
standard on the selection, care and use of respiratory devices
for the fire service. This was a follow-up to an earlier
The state-of-the-art in protective clothing and equipment for firefighters
is being addressed in a joint project of the National Fire Administration
and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The project, called
Project FIRES (Firefighters Integrated Response Equipment System") . concerns
the design and development of a safer, better "protective envelope" for
the firefighters fighting structural fires.
Over the past few decades, the industrial worker has received increasing
attention with respect to occupational safety and health matters. Organizations
such as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) , the
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) , the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) , among others have been established at the Federal level
to promulgate and enforce safety and health standards. The establishment and
enforcement of these standards have played a significant role in the improvement
in industrial occupational safety. This is supported by U.S. Department of
Labor statistics indicating a continuing reduction of injuries and deaths of
The improvement in industrial safety and health is contrasted by the
increasing numbers of injuries and deaths of the Nation's firefighters.
Firefighters employed by the Federal Government, industrial companies and
private contract service companies are covered by the regulations promulgated
by the Federal OSHA. Firefighters and all other employees of state, municipal
and other forms of local government are exempted from the provisions of the
Federal OSHA under the William Steiger Act. The Act provides for the devel-
opment and implementation of federally approved state OSHA plans which can
supercede the Federal plan and cover all employees. Approximately half of
the states now have approved state plans. The progress in the development
and implementation of Federal and state OSHA plans and the observed decrease
in industrial deaths and injuries are contrasted by the absence of occupational
safety and health standards specifically developed for the fire service. The
lack of suitable standards is apparent in both Federal and state OSHA plans
which generally have deferred action in standards applicable to firefighters
or are currently attempting to reference standards developed by consensus
standards organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) , and by the International
Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) , the International Association of Fire Chiefs
(IAFC) and other safety oriented organizations at the local or regional level.
Research and engineering programs on protective clothing and equipment by the
National Bureau of Standards (NBS) , NIOSH and the National Fire Prevention and
Control Administration (NFPCA) , have generated performance criteria in design
specifications. This information is being used as the basis for standards
writing activities now in progress in many states , in the Federal OSHA regula-
tions and by voluntary standards making organizations.
Protective clothing and equipment should allow the firefighter to perform
the various tasks required of him in the performance of his duty and to provide
a high degree of protection against the hazards which are expected to occur.
Many fire departments use specifications for protective clothing and
equipment based in part on manufacturer's product information and on selected
standards where available. Fire department specifications often include special
features desired by a particular department, however, the advantages or dis-
advantages of utilizing these special features are generally not transmitted from
one department to another, primarily because most fire departments either cannot
afford or do not have available the expertise to evaluate them.
In the past, efforts aimed at improving firefighters protective clothing
and equipment by utilizing technology developed for other purposes, such as
astronaut life support systems, have been minimal. The reason in part is that
a "cottage type" industry serves the fire services, and does not have the
resources to conduct the necessary research and development to transfer this
technology to the firefighting community.
The NFPCA is currently conducting programs specifically aimed at devel-
oping improved protective clothing and equipment for structural firefighters
which will be field tested and evaluated. The results of these research
and development efforts will be made available to the entire fire service
contnunity and will hopefully provide for the best protection possible
utilizing available technology.
Information on current standards, specifications and advancements in
firefighter protective clothing and equipment is often not readily accessible
to fire departments at the time when they need it most — when purchasing new
clothing and equipment.
This document was prepared by NFPCA for fire department use, to provide
an assessment of the current state-of-the-art in protective equipment and
relevant standards. This information can also be used as an aid in the
development of purchase specifications for protective clothing and equipment.
Available standards for firefighters' protective clothing and equipment
are discussed in the following sections. Design features, common fire
department practices , and manufacturing aspects are reviewed for helmets ,
face shields and goggles, fire coats and trousers, boots and shoes, gloves,
station uniforms and respiratory protective devices.
SECTION 1: HELMETS
Helmets in use by the fire service today include the traditional leather
helmets, aluminum and other metal helmets, a variety of helmets consisting of
a plastic exterior shell and energy absorbing padding. The array of available
helmets allow the fire department, or individual firefighter, a choice in style
and comfort with different levels of protection. There is little guidance avail-
able to ascertain the levels of protection afforded by a given helmet. Many of
the currently available helmets used by the fire service are not considered
adequate for the level of protection desired because of deficiencies in thermal
stability, lack of full head protection against impact and penetration and
unrealistically low flammability properties.
Protective helmets worn by industrial workers , the so-called hard-hats ,
are required by OSHA to conform to the ANSI Standard for Industrial Head
Protection (1) which specifies construction features and performance criteria
for impact attenuation, penetration resistance, weight, water absorption and
limited electrical insulation resistance. Performance requirements, for a
protective helmet for firefighters are written into a subclass of this standard.
These requirements can be met by most of the currently available helmets designed
with a plastic exterior shell and suspension system. Metal helmets cannot meet
those requirements due primarily to the inherent lack of protection against
electrical hazards. While leather helmets meet the criteria for impact and
penetration, they fail to meet the criteria for weight, water absorption and
electrical insulation. The failure of the leather helmets to meet the requirements
of the ANSI Standard is contrasted by their long-standing record of satisfactory
performance in the fire service. Some of the shortcomings for firefighting
purposes in the ANSI Standard (1) to which many helmets are manufactured include:
absence of a requirement for side, back and front protection against impact and
penetration; a limited thermal cycle for hot and cold conditioning prior to
impact and penetration; a test for flaranability which is not realistic relative
to firefighter exposure in mode or intensity; and absence of a requirement for
a retention system and for visibility.
Firefighters' helmets designed with a plastic exterior shell and energy
absorbing padding generally meet the requirements of the ANSI Standard for
protective headgear for vehicular users (2) . Helmets which conform to this
standard provide all around head protection from impact and penetration in
contrast to those which meet the ANSI Standard for industrial workers (1)
which requires demonstration of protection only in a 3 -inch diameter circular
area on top of the helmet. However, helmets which meet the vehicular users
standard have not received wide acceptance by the fire service. Among other
things, the close proximity of the interior of the helmet to the head can reduce
the dissipation of heat from the firefighters' head which is an important aspect
in the physiological heat balance. This feature combined with an increased weight
relative to the helmets which meet the ANSI industrial standard tends to decrease
comfort. The shape of the helmets meets the vehicular standards and represents
a drastic departure from the traditional shape of helmets accepted by the fire
service. Since the ANSI standard (2) to which these helmets conform was not
developed for the fire service, and the thermal cycle prior to impact and
penetration is unrealistically low, they too have a number of deficiencies.
Although all around head protection is required, the level of protection is
less than is required in the industrial standard (1) . There is no requirement
for visibility, weight, flammability, nor electrical insulation.
Research by NIOSH en head protection for industrial workers and firefighters
(3,4) examined the origin and the significance of the requirements in the ANSI
Standards (1,2) and later led to the development of improved criteria (5). The
NIOSH report concluded that the performance requirements set forth in the ANSI
Standard for industrial protection (1) do not provide a satisfactory level of
protection. Furthermore, the significance of some of the test methods and the
criteria based thereon were questioned. The criteria set forth by the NIOSH
report (5) recommended the development of a helmet which will represent a
hybrid of presently available helmets in that it would provide all around head
protection and offer the advantages of both the sling suspension type and the
foam lined type.
The British Standards Organization published specifications and performance
criteria for firemen's helmets in 1965 (6). Helmets which conform to the British
Standard offer many of the protective features which were suggested in the NIOSH
study. The helmet requires all around head protection against impact and penetra-
tion, under various conditions of temperature and humidity. A chin strap is
specified and strength requirement is given. Protection against moderate electrical
shock is required. The standard requires a test for flammability exposure which
is not particularly severe and water absorption. The specification requires a
suspension system and energy absorbing padding to achieve the specified level of
impact and penetration resistance.
In 1975 the IAFF developed proposed sample standards for protective clothing
and equipment to be incorporated into state OSHA plans (7) . The proposed standard
for protective helmets for firefighters incorporates suggestions put forth in the
NIOSH study; the performance requirements are modeled in large part on the British
Standard for Firemen's Helmets (6). The IAFF Standard details construction
features and requires all around head protection against impact and penetration.
In addition, realistic performance requirements are set forth for thermal
stability, water absorption, and electrical hazards.
The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration (NFPCA) has sponsored
a program at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) to develop model performance
criteria for structural firefighters' helmets (8). Laboratory experiments were
conducted on currently available firefighters helmets to simulate the in-service
conditions to which firefighters' helmets can be expected to be exposed (9).
Consideration was also given to results of tests on helmets used by football players
which were conducted in an American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) round
robin evaluation (10) . The resulting criteria included requirements for impact
attenuation and penetration resistance to all areas of the head, a chin strap and
a strength test for same, ear flaps, a configuration aimed primarily at diverting
falling liquids and debris, flame resistance and heat resistance based on realistic
exposures and safety factors, electrical insulation, visibility and reflectivity,
and labeling. Helmets which meet the model performance criteria will substantially
increase the level of head protection for firefighters. The current state-of-the-art
in helmet design and manufacturing can be employed to produce such fire helmets.
Moreover, the increased protection can be provided without an appreciable increase
in cost and without sacrificing comfort. Helmets meeting these performance
criteria became commercially available in early 1978.
In early 1977, the model performance criteria developed by the NFPCA
were submitted to the NFPA Committee on Protective Clothing and Equipment
for Firefighters for its consideration in the development of a national
consensus standard for structural firefighters helmets. The NFPA is currently
in the process of promulgating a standard which will be specifically aimed
at providing increased head protection for structural firefighters. In
addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for the State
of California adopted the model performance criteria as minimum requirements
for structural firefighters' helmets in their standard for personal protective
clothing and equipment for firefighters.
REFERENCES (Section 1: Helmets)
1. Safety Requirements for Industrial Protection, ANSI Z89. 1-1969.
2. Specifications for Protective Head Gear for Vehicular Users, ANSI
Z90. 1—1971, Supplement ANSI Z90.1a— 1973.
3. Scalene, A. A. , "Development of Standards for Industrial and Firefighters
Head Protective Devices: Volume 1, Criteria for Development of
Standards for Industrial and Firefighters Head Protective Devices;
Volume II, Reconmended Standards for Industrial and Firefighters Head
Protective Devices. PB-225 163, NIOSH Report, August (1973).
4. Kamin, J. I. and A. A. Scalone, ' "NIOSH Safety Research on Protective Helmets,"
American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, 489-502, August (1974).
5. Development of Criteria for Industrial and Firef igjhters ' Head Protective
Devices, HEW Publication No (NIOSH) 75-145, January (1975).
6. British Standard Specification for FIREMEN'S HELMETS, B.S. 3864:0-965.)
7. "Proposed Sample Standard for Fire Fighters Protective Clothing and Equip-
ment, "(1975). International Association of Fire Figjiters Washington, DC 20006
8. Model Performance Criteria for Structural Firefighters' Helmets, NFPCA, July
9. Calvano N. , "Considerations in Establishing Performance Criteria for
Structural Firefighters Helmets", NBSIR 77-1251, May (1977)
10. Calvano, N., ASTM Commttee F8, Sports Equipment and Facilities, Round
Robin Test Data.
SECTION 2: FACE SHIELDS AND GOGGLES
Firefighters wear several devices to protect the eye and face from the
adverse effects of airborne particles, hot irritating smoke and gases, thermal
radiation, glare, sparks, liquids, debris and other hazards encountered at
fires and other emergencies. Eye accidents constitute a high frequency incident
which can result in the occurrence of severe injury and permanent disability (1) .
The devices available for eye and face protection include various types of
goggles, spectacles and face shields which are described in the American National
Standards Institute (ANSI) standard (2) and the facepiece of self-contained
breathing apparatus worn by firefighters. There is an important distinction
between devices which provide eye protection and devices which may cover the eyes
and a portion of the face, shielding the wearer from the environment. Spectacles
and goggles which meet the applicable design and performance requirements of
the ANSI standard (2) provide eye protection and are known as "safety glasses."
Face shields are not designed to provide eye protection; face shields which
meet the applicable requirements of the ANSI standard (2) are primarily designed
to provide protection to the face from flying particles, sprays of hazardous
liquids, and glare. The standard specifically states that face shields should
be worn over suitable basic eye protection. The facepiece of a self-contained
breathing apparatus is in effect a face shield. The ANSI standard for respi-
ratory protection (3) prohibits the wearing of contact lenses with self-contained
breathing apparatus and requires the facepiece to meet pertinent sections of
the standard for eye and face protection (2) .
The principal standard for eye and face protection is a voluntary consensus
standard for the industrial work place (2) . This standard does not contain any
special performance requirements to reflect the environmental exposures to which
firefighters are exposed. Furthermore, use conditions which include exposure to
excessive debris including smoke and soot require a special performance require-
ment for maintenance and cleaning. Recent NIOSH studies (4) revealed that many
face shields currently marketed and sold under alleged conformance to the indus-
trial standard (2) fail to meet all the requirements. However, conformance was
generally found for impact, penetration and the limited flanmability requirement.
The NIOSH study pointed out the deficiency in the use of face shields for primary
The devices ordinarily used by the fire service for eye and face protection
consists of either a face shield attached to the helmet, safety goggles, or the
facepiece of the self-contained breathing apparatus. Face shields are of dif-
ferent designs but when placed in the protective position generally cover the
front and side of the face. Since most face shields are not designed to be
worn over the. facepiece of the self-contained breathing apparatus, the use of
the latter results in the facepiece being placed in a position where it is
exposed to all the smoke and debris in the fire environment. In practice, the
face shield is often placed in this stored position even though breathing
apparatus is not worn. One eye shield currently in use is designed so that
approximately one half of the shield is covered by the brim of the helmet when
the shield is in the stored position. The limited area under the brim and the
construction features of firefighters' helmets precludes the use of this design
technique for protecting a full face shield from the fire environment. The
use of industrial goggles and spectacles by firefighters is limited by their
incompatibility with other items of protective equipment, specifically helmets
and breathing apparatus and the need to provide face shields for full protec-
Face shield lenses are usually fabricated from polycarbonate or acrylic
resins. Hence, cleaning presents special problems and often results in exces-
sive scratching. Eyepieces of the self-contained breathing apparatus facepiece
are also generally made from the same materials. In addition to the impact
resistant plastic materials, laminated "safety glass" can be used for the lenses
of goggles and spectacles and thereby cleaning difficulties are significantly
REFERENCES (Section 2: Face Shields and Goggles)
1. International Association of Fire Fighters, Annual Death and Injury
Survey, 1974, 1975.
2. Practices for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection; AKSI
3. Practice for Respiratory Protection; ANSI Z88.2- 1969.
4. Campbell, D.L. , "Industrial Face Shield Performance Test, " HEW Publication
No. (NIOSH) 760156.
SECTION 3: FIRE CCATS AND TROUSERS
In the current state-of-the-art in the manufacture of fire coats worn by
structural firefighters, two designs are used. One employs a fabric outer
shell, a vapor barrier, and a permanent liner as the essential components.
The other design features a coated fabric outer shell and a permanent liner.
Both types of coats are available in various lengths from a long, knee length
to a short, hip length. The length of the fire coat is usually based upon
different climatic conditions of the country and upon the modes of combinations
of fire coats and boots and/or protective trousers. The knee length fire coat
is often worn in combination with three-quarter length hip boots ; the hip
length fire coat, is often worn with protective trousers and shorter boots or
Fire coats designed with a fabric outer shell, a vapor barrier, and a
permanent liner are worn by the majority of the Nation's firefighters. Prior
to the advent of inherently fire resistant fabrics in commercial production,
this type of fire coat was manufactured with a cotton duck or canvas outer shell
with fabric weights of 12 to 24 ounces per square yard. Such outer shells are
easily ignited upon contact with open flames of modest intensity, and, once
ignited, such fabrics continue to burn until manually extinguished.
Outer shell material for fire coats of fire retardant treated cotton
duck was introduced in the late sixties to improve the level of protection
against heat and flames which could ignite untreated cotton duck or canvas.
Such coats did not receive wide acceptance by the fire service due in part
to increased costs, resistance to change, limited marketing, and lack of a
nationally accepted standard which would require such construction.
The commercial availability of inherently fire resistant fabrics especially
fabrics woven from aramid fibers alone or in combination with other inherently
fire resistant materials such as modacrylics or more thermally stable materials,
such as novoloid, has led to an increased use of such materials for the outer
shell or protective coats. The increased use was brought about by an increased
demand for protective clothing motivated in part by a growing awareness of the
potential dangers of many of the currently used fire coats and well-coordinated
marketing campaigns by the manufacturers. The availability of specifications
(1, 2) requiring such outer shells and the eventual development of published
design criteria (3) and a consensus standard (4) also contributed to the
increased use of inherently fire resistant materials for outer shells.
Vapor barriers used in fire coats are usually separate liners of a thin-
coated fabric sewn to the permanent liner. Vapor barriers are designed to be
impervious to steam and moisture and to other liquids which can penetrate the
fabric outer shell. Many of today's fire coats have vapor barrier materials
which do not resist ignition. There is disagreement in published literature
about the need for a fire resistant vapor barrier. An earlier NBS specification
(2) did not require the vapor barrier to resist ignition, but while the later
design criteria developed at NBS (3) and the NFPA Standard (4) do require the
vapor barrier to resist ignition. The vapor barrier can also be attached as
a coating to the back of the outer shell or to the outermost side of the permanent
lining. Neoprene coatings typically employed in the fabrication of vapor barriers
can be formulated to resist ignition.
Permanent liners make up the third integral component of fire coats manu-
factured with fabric outer shells. A variety of fabrics are employed in the
construction of liners. There are many fire coats in use with ordinary cotton
liners; wool liners are common in the colder climates. With the development
of fire coats fabricated with fire resistant outer shells, fire retardant
treated cotton fleece was introduced with a neoprene backing as a liner material.
Subsequently, inherently fire resistant materials including aramid were also
employed as a liner material. In many constructions the aramid was also
coated with neoprene. An aramid construction known in industry as needle-punch
fabrication was employed for liners. As with vapor barriers, there is some
difference in opinion regarding the need for resistance to ignition as a
necessary property of liner material. The NBS design criteria (3) and the NFPA
Standard (4) do require resistance to ignition for liners, while the NBS speci-
fication (2) for fire coats has no requirement for the flamnability of the liner.
In the construction of a fire coat it is generally agreed that the pro-
tective features are obtained by the combination of the outer shell, the vapor
barrier and the liner. For this reason most coats are manufactured with these
three components sewn together in conformance with current recommendations (3 , 4) .
A construction with replaceable vapor barrier and liner — for example, a snap-
out construction — would have the advantage of allowing a firefighter to replace
wet or damaged liners with replacement parts and thereby returning the garment
to a readily useable condition. One of the arguments for the sewn- in construction
relates to enforcement procedures to ensure that firefighters responding to fires
and other emergencies always wear a completed assembled fire coat. A second type
of design used in the contruction of fire coats consists of a coated fabric outer
shell and a permanent liner. The use of the coated shell eliminates the need
for a separate vapor barrier. The specifications (1, 2) , design criteria (3) ,
and the NFPA Standard (4) do not adequately address the construction of a fire
coat with a coated fabric outer shell. The design criteria published by NBS (3)
briefly discuss the subject of coated fabric outer shells and indicate that such
materials do not currently meet the requirements. The subject of a different
design capability which can be employed for coated outer shells is not discussed.
The advantages of coated outer shells for water repellency is mentioned. The
NFPA Standard (4) mentions coated fabric outer shells in the Appendix and suggests
that additional property data should be obtained for such materials. No methods
are suggested for measuring the properties cited and no discussion of the level
of rated performance is given. Coated fabric outer shell coats have evolved from
the traditional rubber coat which was worn by the fire service for many years ,
especially in the northern climates. The original designs were a one-piece
construction of a heavy rubber coating on cotton, and firefighters generally wore
jackets or similar short-waisted garments under the rubber fire coat. With the
advent of synthetic rubbers after World War II, a lighter-weight rubber coat
consisting of a synthetic rubber on cotton fleece was introduced. This coat
was a single-layer construction and was generally made without any regard for
the flamnability of the rubber or the lining. There is less published information
on this type of coat than on coats manufactured with fabric outer shells. An
incident in the Boston Fire Department in 1967 demonstrated the potential hazard
in this type of coat (5) . Subsequently, fire coats were specified to be designed
with coated fabric outer shells and separate liners. The construction, like
the analogous fabric outer shell coat (with fabric barrier and liner) , can be
used to produce protective fire coats. Specifications were developed (6) which
required resistance to ignition in coated fabric outer shells and liners for
this type of coat. The protective nature of this type of coat has been demon-
strated in the field (7) and in laboratory tests (8) .
The materials used in the outer shells of fire coats manufactured with
coated fabrics include fire retardant neoprene combinations, fire retardant
polyvinylchloride (PVC) formulations, and other proprietary coatings. Materials
used for the liners include the neoprene coated fire retardant cotton fleece
and the neoprene coated aramid needle-punch fabric. Wool and ordinary cotton
can also be used as liner materials depending upon requirements for resistance
Firefighters' trousers provide protection for the legs , thighs , and buttocks .
The full protection needed for the thighs and buttocks can only be achieved by
combining a fire coat which extends to the knees with fully extended 3/4 length or
hip boots , or a shorter length fire coat with protective trousers and boots or
Protective trousers can also be worn with the longer coats , and this practice
is conmon in colder climates, especially during the nightime hours. Protective
trousers worn with knee length boots are commonly known as a "night hitch" or
"boots and bunkers." Serious injuries to firefighters have resulted from inade-
quate protection of the thighs and buttocks. Protective trousers used in
conjunction with a protective fire coat can significantly reduce the incidence
of these injuries and otherwise allow the firefighter to accomplish his work.
Protective trousers are constructed with a woven or coated fabric exterior
or outer shell and a full-legged liner with a moisture barrier between the
outer shell and liner. Outer shell construction features are analogous to
those with fire coats and the same materials are employed. A coated fabric
outer shell permits water to run off with no absorption. The moisture barrier
can be a separate layer or a coating on the outer side of the liner. A
detachable winter liner is usually provided to cover the thigh, buttocks, and
upper leg areas for added warmth in cold climates.
Although published specifications (1, 2) design criteria (3), and the
NFPA Standard (4) provide details for the component parts of a fire coat
including trim and other accessories, there are no requirements for demonstra-
tion of the thermal protective qualities which must be provided in the assembled
garment. In programs carried out at the National Bureau of Standards, the
assembled coat was required to have a particular thickness and a maximum total
weight but there was no thermal test to ensure that the finished garment
provided a level of protection against the types of thermal hazards which
could ordinarily be encountered by firefighters in the performance of their
duties. Utech's detailed design analysis of a firefighter's turnout coat
addresses the thermal hazards and discusses failure modes including burn
protection, heat exhaustion, infra-red reflectance, thermal resistance, and
heat capacity (9) . The need for resistance to ignition is discussed and the
inadequacy of flame resistance as a design parameter to insure protection
from burns is noted.
A proposed standard developed by IAFF (10) details construction requirements
of fire coats and trousers for fabric outer shell clothing and coated fabric outer
shell clothing. Requirements are put forth for resistance to ignition by outer
shells, vapor barriers, liners, and winter liners. In addition, a thermal pro-
tection performance requirement for the assembled coat construction (without the
optional winter liner) is developed on the basis of the laboratory test results
published by Molter C8) . The test procedure requires exposure of the coat
construction consisting of the outer shell, vapor barrier and lining to a
calibrated heat flux of 2.0 cal/sq.cm. / sec or 8.4 watts/sq.cm. which is
50 percent convective heat and 50 percent radiant heat. The failure point in
the test is obtained by a thermal sensing device positioned behind the fire
coat assembly. The output of the sensing device is correlated with the human
skin tolerance to heat on the threshold of second degree burns. The details of
the method are provided in a publication by Behnke (11) . The failure criteria
developed in the IAFF standard are based on test results obtained by Behnke 's
method that were earlier published by Molter (8) .
REFERENCES (Section 3: Fire Coats Trousers)
1. Fire Department Specifications: Cleveland Fire Department (1970).
2. Utech, H.P., Purchase Specifications, Turnout Coats, Firefighter's, NBS
Report ID650, December (1971).
3. Eisle, J,, Design Criteria for Firefighters' Turnout Coats, NBSIR 75-702,
4. Protective Clothing for Structural Fire Fighting, NFPA No. 1971, November (1975),
5. Clougherty, E.V. "Boston's Experience with Protective Clothing." Fireman
(Mag.), Vol 35, No 10 (1968).
6. Boston Fire Department Specification for Fire Coats.
7. Personal Camunication, Boston Fire Department.
8. Molter, J. "Advances in Protective Clothing, " Fire Engineering, November (1975)
9. Utech, H. , 'The Firefi^iter's Turnout Coat: A Design Analysis, "J. Safety
Research, Vol 6, 2-14 (1974).
10. "Proposed Sample Standard for Fire Fighters Protective and Equipment, "
(1975), International Association of Fire Fighters, Washington, D.C. 20006
11. Behnke, W.P. "Thermal Protective Performance Test for Clothing, Fire
Technolgy, Vol 13 (1977)
SECTION 4: BOOTS AND SHOES
Firefighters wear boots or shoes in conjunction with protective fire coats
and trousers and station uniforms to cover and protect their feet and legs
against the environment and hazards encountered at fires and other emergencies.
Firefighters' boots are generally available in four lengths designed to
extend coverage to the ankle, knee, 3/4 of the thigh, or full hip. Fire-
fighters also wear industrial work shoes of various types including low
quarters, ankle high, and leg boots. There are also boots which are designed
to fit over work shoes. The length of the shoe and/ or boot should be determined
by the length of the fire coat and the practice of the particular fire depart-
ment with respect to the wearing of protective trousers and the type of station
uniform. Examples of combinations of foot and leg protection include: a 3/4
length boot and a fire coat which extends to the knees; knee length boots under
protective trousers with a hip length fire coat; ankle high industrial work
shoes with protective trousers and a hip length fire coat.
Firefighters can choose boots from an array of styles and lengths with
different protective features and accessories, manufactured specifically for
the fire service. Although there is no voluntary standard currently available
to detail performance requirements and construction features manufacturers do
reference standards for certain protective features such as impact protection
for toes based on performance criteria of an ANSI Standard which was designed
for industrial work shoes (1) and puncture protection for soles using a
military specification for firef ighters' boots (2). Manufacturers also offer
boots with special construction features, including additional insole insula-
tion, special linings, extra rubber bumpers in high wear areas and reflective
rubbers for increased visibility.
Boots manufactured for firefighters are for the most part intended to be
worn without shoes and in practice are often worn without socks. Accordingly,
the choice of materials and the method of manufacture employed for the interior
of the boot are a very important aspect of a quality boot manufacturing operation.
Generally, boots are constructed with a rubber exterior, usually black in color
due to the use of carbon black fillers. The inside of the boot is lined with
a fabric or composition to provide comfort and prevent chafing, blisters and
other deleterious reactions. The base of a typical boot consists of a durable
outsole and several insoles with a toe cap often covered with a rubber bumper.
The outsole may be knurled or cleated to enhance traction on working surfaces;
a protective insole may be included to provide protection against penetration
by sharp objects; an insulating insole may be added to increase the warmth of
the boot, and a steel box toe cover may be employed to protect against falling
objects and compressive force. A ladder shank is built into the insole to
distribute the body weight when the wearer is working off ladders. The construc-
tion of the heel and outsole is designed for ladder work. A multiple corstruction
of rubber and fabrics cover the top of the foot and extends (depending upon length)
to the knee. Features of construction which can be included in this section of
the boot include an impact resistant reinforcement at the shin, additional insula-
tive material in the knee area and special linings for warmth and comfort. A
flexible lined rubber skirt extends from the knee to the thigh in 3/4 length boots
and to the hip in hip length boots.
The boots manufactured for firefighters are designed and constructed to
provide warmth and comfort to the wearer in the performance of his duties on
the fire ground. Important features of boots manufactured for the fire service
should include the ability to obtain proper fit, slip resistant outsoles,
functional design for climbing and working off ladders, toe protection, shin
and knee protection, penetration resistant insoles, insulative insoles and
protection against water and solvents, the thermal environment and electrical
hazards. Durability of the rubber exterior, the stitching and adhesives and
the interior of the boot are also imparted by appropriate materials selection
and manufacturing methodology.
In practice, manufacturers offer many models with different combinations
of length, style, protective features and accessories. There is no voluntary
standard for firefighters to which a finished boot should conform. A limited
number of protective features are manufactured to conform to particular standards
or specifications; for example, protection of toes against impact and compressive
force is demonstrated by conformance to performance criteria in a voluntary
standard— in this case, the ANSI Standard, Men's Safety-Toe Footwear (1). The
latter was written for industrial work shoes, and it provides criteria for
different classifications. Class 75 is often cited for models which have added
toe protection. To meet the criteria for "Class 75" the toe construction must
provide 0.5 inch clearance after a 75 foot pound impact and after 2500 pounds
compression. This protection is obtained by steel box toe construction.
Protection against penetration through the insole is demonstrated by citing
conformance to a specification; e.g., the military specification for Firemen's
Boots (2) cites a minimum puncture resistance of 200 pounds when tested in a
specific manner using a new 8 D common nail. It is common for manufacturers to
cite a specification for a grade of stainless steel for the protective insole
to guard against the deterioration of the insole by, for example, rusting.
Conversely, a purchaser can specify the performance requirement and/or the
stainless steel midsole. The area immediately adjacent to the insole is
particularly susceptible to injury by puncture; this area is not protected by
the type of steel insole currently employed. The performance requirement
to assure the physical integrity of boots against inward leakage of water
and solvents in the military specification (2) involves subjecting the inside
of an immersed boot to an air pressure of 1 psi. Some manufacturers cite this
performance characteristic for their boots. The remaining features of comfort
and protection are generally claimed by manufacturers for one or more styles
by citing a construction feature; for example, "felt lined for warmth and
comfort," "cleat grip sole for surer footing and longer wear," without reference
to performance criteria based on an engineering test. This practice is wide-
spread among the manufacturers of boots for firefighters. In many cases
there are no acceptable test methods on which to base acceptance criteria.
There is generally a specification for weight of a particular style and size.
There is no accepted thermal protection performance requirement. Protection
against electrical hazards is generally not specified although a level of
protection is provided. The level of electrical protection is reduced in part
by the use of conductive carbon black fillers required for physical and chemical
properties. The ability of boot manufacturers to provide boots of proper fit
is limited by the practice of manufacturing only in whole numbered sizes.
The safety shoe industry is a much larger manufacturing operation than
the firefighter boot industry. While boots for firefighters offering a range
of protective features are specifically manufactured for the fire service,
the shoes worn by firefighters are for the most part industrial work shoes
having added protection such as puncture resistant insoles or extra reinforce-
ments available in a limited number of styles. Firefighters can assure
themselves of protection against impact and penetration by purchasing safety
shoes which meet the same standards which were cited for boots. In general,
the same standard is referenced for impact protection (1) while the penetra-
tion protection is generally cited by reference to a specification for a
stainless steel or 'puncture proof insole. There is a Canadian Standard
for industrial safety shoes which references performance criteria for impact
resistance and compression strength of the toe construction and protection
against penetration through the insole (3) . The standard also cites other
construction features. According to the Canadian Standard, safety features
can be classified as one of the six types with different levels of protection
applicable to different occupational hazards.
REFERENCES: (Section 4: Boots and Shoes)
1. ANSI Z41. 1-1967 (R1972) , Men's Safety-Toe Footwear.
2. MIL-B-2885D, Military Specifications, Boots, Fireman's, 23 May 1973.
Amended 29 December 1975.
3. CSA Standard Z195-1970, Safety Footwear.
SECTION 5: GLOVES
Firefighters wear gloves in conjunction with other turnout clothing to
cover and protect the hands and wrists against the environmental hazards which
are encountered at fires and other emergencies. Available data show that while
cut and puncture injuries occur with the highest frequency, more severe injuries
result from burns (1) .
Many firefighters wear an industrial work glove selected on the basis of
cost, availability, and usefulness to the individual. Fire departments have
developed specifications for glove procurements which are based for the most
part on field evaluation trials of gloves developed by a particular manufacturer
(2). There are no voluntary consensus standards for gloves for firefighters.
The IAFF proposed sample standards for firefighters' protective clothing and
equipment include requirements for a protective glove (3) . NIOSH sponsored
research to develop performance criteria for firefighters ' gloves (4) .
Firefighters' gloves are manufactured by companies who are primarily
involved in the production of industrial work gloves. Hence, developments
in the design and construction of firefighters' gloves have paralleled devel-
opments in industrial safety gloves. Industrial safety gloves are available
in limited size ranges; many are available only in one size. Several materials
and designs are used for firefighters' gloves. Outer surfaces include cotton,
leather, wool and the inherently fire resistant fabrics (e.g., aramid or
novoloid) . Variations in design include the length and construction of the
portion of the glove which covers the wrist from open gauntlets to tight
fitting wristlets. Some designs employ a wear resistant material for the
palm and a fabric for the back. Increased thermal protection is obtained
by the addition of linings and in special designs by the utilization of a
metallized exterior coating to reflect radiant heat. Protection against
potentially harmful chemicals can be obtained in part by specifying outer
covering materials which are impervious to liquids and substantially
chemically inert such as special neoprene rubber formulations. Industrial
safety gloves and currently available firefighters' gloves are not designed
to provide protection against adverse weather conditions. Most gloves are
not suitable for careful mechanical manipulation of knobs or buttons
encountered in firefigLitiiig equipmcii.L.
The operational requirements for firefighters' gloves include: ability
to function under severe exposure to water as would be encountered in operating
hose lines or performing routine firefighting evolutions while hose lines are
operating; manual dexterity for grip and manipulation of hand tools; and ability
to discern the shapes of various objects which could be encountered in search
activities under conditions of severely reduced visibility inside of a building
during a fire. Protection against adverse cold weather conditions is required
in certain climates. Protection against cuts, bruises and punctures should be
given priority on the basis of the demonstrated significantly high occurrence
rate of hand and wrist injuries (5). However, thermal protection against
radiant and convective heat exposure and thermal contact with hot objects which
can be encountered at fires is also required. Although these requirements can
be set forth in qualitative terms, there are no performance standards which can
be referenced to specify these requirements in a quantitative manner. The
NIOSH study addressed this problem and proposed performance requirement tests
which appear to correlate with the qualification requirements (4) . The proper
methods are not reference standards which have been verified for reproducibility
or applicability for the desired levels of protection and the necessary func-
tional requirements .
Efforts to address the problem of specifying a performance requirement
for thermal properties of gloves have taken two approaches. Several studies
have proposed thermal endurance requirements using, for example, exposure
to a quantitative radiant heat flux for a specified time and criteria for
acceptability in terms of allowable heat transfer, and other flammability
tests of the materials of construction and requires resistance to ignition
by specifying contact with a flame and allowable flaming after removal from
the flame. In both thermal exposures it is important to specify resistance
to melting under the conditions of test for components which are worn in
contact with the skin; for example, wristlets and linings.
REFERENCES (Section 5: Gloves)
1. "Annual Death and Injury Survey" International Association of Fire
Fighters, Washington, DC (1974) .
2. Philadelphia Fire Department Glove Specifications, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, Cleveland Fire Department Glove Specifications,
Cleveland, Ohio. Boston Fire Department Glove Specifications,
3. "Proposed Sample Standards for Fire Fighters Protective Clothing
and Equipment" (1975) . International Association of Fire Fighters,
Washington, DC 20006.
4. Coletta, G.C., et. al., "The Development of Criteria for Firefighters'
Gloves, DHEW (NIOSH) Publication Nos. 77-134-B.
5. "A Carprehensive Study of Fire Fighting Injuries and Injury Reporting
Systems" International Association of Fire Fighters, Washington, DC
20006, NFPCA Grant No. 76056, August (1977).
SECTION 6 : STATION UNIFORMS
Station uniforms are not in themselves protective clothing. The station
uniform is part of the protective ensemble which is usually worn when respond-
ing to fires and other emergencies. The complete protective ensemble is
required to allow the firefighter to safely and efficiently accomplish the
tasks which are required in the performance of his duty and to provide a
high degree of protection against the hazards which are reasonably expected
Firefighters wear station uniforms consisting of a shirt and trousers or
a one-piece coverall garment; in some departments a short waist-length jacket
is also worn. The shirts can have long or short sleeves. Station uniforms
are worn in the fire stations for the complete tour of duty during which fire-
fighters are engaged in a variety of work assignments to maintain fire apparatus ,
equipment and the living facilities. This clothing is intended to be worn
underneath protective fire coats and other protective clothing and equipment
when firefighters respond to fires and other emergencies. In practice, station
uniforms are not always worn under complete protective clothing. Depending
upon their length, protective fire coats generally cover the station uniform
above the hips leaving the leg portion exposed unless covered by boots or
protective trousers. The practice of wearing on the fire ground an exposed
single layered fabric material on any part of the body seriously compromises
the level of protection which is currently available with properly designed
protective clothing and equipment.
Station uniforms are generally available from manufacturers and distri-
butors of firefighters' clothing in a range of materials varying from cotton
polyester blends used for industrial work clothes to newer developed inher-
ently fire resistant fabrics marketed for occupations such as foundry and
steel mill workers and firefighters which require special protective features.
In practice station uniforms are also purchased from retail clothing stores
and work uniform outlets.
Station uniforms are required to have certain functional properties
common for the most part to industrial work clothes. Permanence of color,
good wear characteristics and comfort in the work environment have to be
Many fire departments use station uniforms made from cotton and polyester
fabric blends which are not treated to provide resistance to ignition. Cloth-
ing made from cotton polyester blends has received widespread use on the basis
of "wash and wear, permanent press" characteristics. In considering the safety
aspects of such clothing for firefighters, one has to take into the account
the local practice regarding outer protective clothing. If the station uniform
is completely covered by protective clothing, the requirement for any protective
features in the station uniform is substantially less than the requirement when
the station uniform is exposed at a fire or other emergency. In this regard,
the requirement for protective features in station uniforms is generally more
restrictive for pants than shirts since in current practice the lower part of
the leg is more likely to be exposed as, for example, where the practice is
to respond with a fire coat (of a given length) over the station uniform, no
protective trousers, and safety shoes in place of boots. In examining this
practice, it is significant that the lower extreme ties are generally exposed
to a lower temperature environment in structural fires.
In the past several years seme consideration has been given to the use
of treated and inherently flame-resistant fabrics for station uniforms. This
subject is currently being reviewed in a number of fire departments due to
reports of burn injuries aggravated by the failure and melting of cotton
polyester fabrics, and to the increased availability of fabrics which can
offer some resistance to ignition (1) . Fire retardant treated cotton and
wool and inherently fire resistant materials such as modacrylics, aranrLds
and novoloids are being considered. The New York Fire Department has accepted
flame-resistant cotton as the material for their station uniforms. All the
fabrics being offered as replacements for the cotton and cotton polyester
blends are considerably more expensive.
There is a lack of accepted standards for station uniforms. The IAFF
has proposed a standard which requires that the fabric resist ignition and
melting (2). The ISO subcommittee on "flameproof clothing" has proposed
general requirements regarding potential problems with fusible materials
which can melt in contact with the wearer's skin (3) .
The protection afforded by station uniforms as part of the protective
ensemble relates to protection against heat transfer through the outer pro-
tective clothing such as a fire coat, protective trousers, or protective boots.
In developing performance criteria for firefighters' station uniforms, it is
necessary to require that materials employed for station uniforms resist melting,
decomposition, or any physical or chemical process which would degrade their
thermal properties in the range of heat flux and times that can be anticipated
under their outer protective clothing and equipment. Furthermore, in the event
of failure of the outer protective clothing and equipment, it is probable that
the station uniform itself will be exposed to flame and/or a severe thermal
environment. There is a lack of knowledge on the behavior of fabrics under
turnout clothing and equipment when exposed to a thermal load against which
the turnout clothing is designed to protect. Current practice requires that
such fabrics resist ignition and melting from exposure to flame and/or a
severe thermal environment.
REFERENCES (Section 6: Station Uniforms)
1. New York Daily News, January 16, 1975.
2. "Proposed Sample Standards for Fire Fighters Protective Clothing and
Equipment." (1975) International Association of Fire Fighters
Washington, D.C. 20006
3. ISO/TC 94/SC 9- Flameproof Clothing (January, 1968).
SECTION 7 : RESPIRATORY PROTECTIVE DEVICES
Firefighters wear self contained breathing apparatus for respiratory
protection in hazardous atmospheres encountered at fires and other emergencies.
Federal agencies including NIOSH, MSHA, and DOT which are involved in the
regulation of respiratory protective devices have developed construction and
performance requirements for the "approval" of breathing apparatus for general
industry. Although generally required to use such "approved" breathing apparatus
firefighters generally characterize the available devices as excessively heavy
and bulky, of insufficient duration and unreliable at fires due to mechanical
breakdown. The demands placed on breathing apparatus by the fire service far
exceed the performance requirements which the Federal regulatory agencies employ
in their approval schedules.
The lack of suitable breathing apparatus for use in firefighting has led
in many instances to an unacceptable practice of minimal wearing of respiratory
protective devices. Firefighters often chose not to wear any breathing apparatus
at fires unless heavy smoke conditions were apparent. When the decision was made
to wear breathing apparatus at a particular location, firefighters would remove
the devices as soon as the smoke conditions abated, as for example, during over-
haul procedures. Results of occupational health surveys have demonstrated a
correlation of firefighting experience with prevalent rates of chronic non-specific
respiratory disease (1) . Other studies of respiratory disease in firefighters
have demonstrated adverse health effects due to exposure to the fire environment
(2, 3, 4). The shortcomings of the available breathing apparatus and the known
respiratory hazards encountered by firefighters combine to produce a dilemma
which is not fully appreciated by the majority of occupational safety specialists
including firefighters, research scientists and regulatory officials.
Until the late 1960's two types of respiratory protective devices were
commonly used by firefighters. The full-facepiece filter mask was routinely
used in structural firefighting. The light weight (7 pounds) and small bulk
of the filter mask combined to produce a high degree of acceptance. The
inherent limitations of filter masks, including inability to function in
atmospheres depleted of oxygen and in high concentration of carbon monoxide
were known. However, the significance of these limitations on the degree of
respiratory protection afforded was not fully understood. Following the
occurence of several incidents in which firefighters wearing filter masks
died from acute respiratory ailments, the use of this type of equipment was
banned by several fire departments. In 1971 the NFPA published a standard
(5) which prohibited the use of filter masks for firefighting. Subsequently,
the ANSI Committee on Respiratory Protection published a standard on the
selection, care and use of respiratory devices for the fire service (6) , as
a follow-up to an earlier "general" standard (7) .
Many fire departments had used closed circuit self contained breathing
apparatus (SCBA) to complement the filter masks for fires in subbasements ,
tunnels, subway systems, ships and in other locations where oxygen deficient
atmospheres and high concentration of carbon monoxide could be anticipated.
Closed circuit SCBA, generally called "rebreathers , " recycle the exhaled breath
through a chemical cartridge to remove carbon dioxide and store the cleaned air
in a bag to which oxygen is added to replenish the quantity of oxygen used during
inhalation. The air in the bag is then inspired and the process repeated. The
oxygen required to replenish the air is produced by a chemical reaction within
the purification cartridge in one type of rebreather, and in another type, a
small cylinder of compressed oxygen is used. Presently available rebreathers
weighing 12-20 pounds can supply respirable air for 45 to 60 minutes. The
inability of the wearer to temporarily remove and redo the facepiece of this
apparatus in the fire environment, as is often the practice to better ascertain
the state of physical conditions, has limited the acceptance of rebreathers
by the fire service. This practice could lead to contamination of the recycled
As the limitations of the filter mask became more apparent in the late
1960's, the use of open circuit compressed air SCBA was substantially increased
by the fire service. In open circuit SCBA breathing air is stored in a
pressure cylinder which is carried by the wearer. The compressed air is
reduced to ambient pressure and passes through a regulator to the facepiece
where it is inspired and the exhaled breath is released to the atmosphere.
Two types of regulators are used to control the flow of air to the wearer.
Regulators which operate in the demand mode are activated by the inhalation
of the wearer. A slight negative pressure must be established in the face-
piece during inspiration to establish air flow. Regulators which operate
in a positive pressure mode are activated by the decrease in pressure in
the facepiece during inspiration; however a slight positive pressure is
always maintained in the facepiece.
Although open circuit compressed air SCBA equipment has been purchased
by many fire departments since the late 1960's, their acceptance and use by
firefighters have been limited. Initial field experience on the fire ground
raised a number of objections to the extensive use of these units. Among
other things, field experience demonstrated excessive bulk and weight (33
pounds for the commonly used model) , relatively short duration (15-20 minutes)
and a high frequency of operational difficulties resulting in decreased
reliability. In addition, the wearability of this type of breathing
apparatus has been limited by poorly fitting facepieces with resulting
pressure points, poor visibility and poor communication. As a result of
these difficulties, the initial enthusiasm of the fire service for this type
of respiratory protection was eroded and over a period of years many firefighters
stopped wearing any kind of breathing apparatus. This practice eventually
led to increased respiratory health problems (1, 2, 3, 4) and hampered
effective firefighting procedures.
Breathing apparatus manufactured in the United States is designed and
constructed to meet the performance requirements prescribed in approval
schedules originally developed and implemented by the Bureau of Mines and
currently under the jurisdictions of NIOSH and MSHA. The compressed gas
cylinders used in breathing apparatus are regulated by the U.S. Department
of Transportation. The first approval schedule was published in 1919, and
additions were made in 1930, 1935, 1946, 1956, 1968 and 1972 (8). The
approval schedules were developed to provide requirements for acceptable
respiratory protection in hazardous atmospheres encountered by miners.
Subsequently, industrial needs for respiratory equipment became apparent
and the approval schedules were modified. The increased use of open circuit
SCBA by the fire service in the late 1960 ' s occurred without any changes in
existing equipment which was designed for mine safety and industrial use,
and conformed to the pertinent approval schedules. NIOSH and MSHA assumed
jurisdiction of the approval schedules for respiratory protective devices
in 1972. The numerous problems encountered by the fire service in the use
of breathing apparatus which conform to the approval schedules attest to
the need of major revisions to take into account the working conditions of
firefighters, the special environment encountered by firefighters and the
work rates which are often expended on the fireground. The need for a
revision in the performance requirement relating to work rate is apparent
to any firefighter who has worn a breathing apparatus which was "approved"
by NIOSH and MSHA for 30 minutes duration and continually found in practice
to be expended in 15 to 20 minutes, and on occasion at higher work rates, in
as little as 12 minutes. The need for revision of the approval schedules for
respiratory protective devices to take into account the special needs of the
fire service was recognized by recent action of NIOSH and MSHA to solicit
input from the fire service organizations and other interested parties (9) .
Extensive public testimony presented at the NIOSH-MSHA hearing reiterated
the inadequacies of presently available SCBA for the use conditions and
environments encountered by firefighters and the need for approval schedules
relevant to firefighting needs (10). In response to this, NIOSH has
established a working group representing NIOSH, OSHA, MSHA and NFPGA to
revise the approval schedules for breathing apparatus which will reflect
the firefighters' requirements.
SCBA. should be developed specifically for the fire service, and reflect
both the needs and the operating conditions experienced by firefighters. It
was specifically requested that NIOSH/MSHA allow SCBA which operates in
either demand or positive pressure at the option of the wearer. The request
was made on the basis of the presently available positive pressure models
which have alledged operational shortcomings relative to their safe and
efficient use on the fire ground. The respiratory protection achieved by
closed circuit and open circuit SCBA is determined by several factors
including facepiece fit. Studies have shown that 90 to 95 percent of the
U.S. male population can be fit with one full facepiece (11). Thus, most
manufacturers have only one facepiece size available although the human
face varies in size and form. However, facepiece fit should be evaluated
by individual leakage tests and this type of testing is not generally been
performed on firefighters. One approach to minimizing the effects of
varying facial contours is to issue individual facepieces to firefighters.
Some improvement in fit can develop as the facepiece is used to adjust to
the same individual. The mode of operation governs the air flow and air
pressure in the facepiece. Leakage problems are more significant with
breathing apparatus in which negative pressure relative to ambient pressure
is produced in the facepiece during operation.
REFERENCES (Section 7: Respiratory Protective Devices)
1. Sidor, R. , and Peters, J.M. , "Prevalence Rates of Chronic Nonspecific
Respiratory Disease in Firefighters, "Am. Rev. Resp. Dis., Vol. 109,
2. Thomas, D.M. , "The Smoke Inhalation Problem, "Proceedings of Symposium
on Occupational Health and Hazards of the Fire Service, Notre Dame
university, 1971, International Association of Fire Fighters, Washington, D.C.
20006, p. 21.
3. Peters, J.M. , et.al., "Chronic Effects of Fire Fighting on Pulmonary
Function, New England J. of Med., Vol 291, 1320-1322 (1974).
4. Peabody, H.O. , "Pulmonary Function and the Fire Fighters," J. Comb. Tox. ,
Vol. 4, 8-15 (1977)
5. Respiratory Protective Equipment for Firef igjhters , NFPA Standard No. 19B
6. Practices for Respiratory Protection for the Fire Service, ANSI
7. Practices for Respiratory Protection, ANSI Z88.2 (1969).
8. Bureau of Mines Approval Schedules 13 (1919), 13A (1930), 13B (1935),
13C(1946), 13D(1956), 13E(1968); NIOSH/MESA Approval Schedule 13H(1972) .
9. Federal Register, Notice of Public Meeting by NIOSH/MESA Solicting
Proposals on Revision of 6 CFR Part II
10. Minutes of NIOSH/MESA Public Meeting on Proposals for Revision of 30 CFR
Part II, Department of Labor, (Docket Office), Washington, D.C.
11. Hyatt, E.C., et.al., "Respiratory Efficiency Measurements Using
Quantitative DOP Test, "J.M. Inst. Hyg. Assoc, Vol 33, (1972).
SECTION 8: PROJECT "FIRES"
(Firefighter Integrated Response Equipment System)
The NFPCA, in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, is working on Project FIRES to develop a prototype
integrated system of protective clothing and equipment for firefighters.
Phase I of the Project, now in progress, calls for the redesign of a
firefighter's protective envelope from helmets to boots. Now, one
manufacturer produces boots which may or may not compliment trousers.
Trousers and turnout coats vary in compability. And helmets, face
shields and breathing apparatus may be difficult to coordinate. Project
FIRES is considering all components and redesigning an integrated system
for firefighter protection.
Working on Project FIRES are NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight
Center, Huntsville, Alabama; Grunman Aerospace Corp., Bethpage, N.Y. ,
the NASA contractor; and Public Technology, Inc., Washington, D.C. , which
works with the User Requirements Conmittee.
Further information and reports are available from:
Andrew F. Sears
Manager, Fire Services Technology
P.O. Box 19518
Washington, DC 20036
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